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“Adrift in Tokyo” (released domestically as “Tenten”) is a 2007 outing from cult favourite director Satoshi Miki, who has been responsible for some of the best loved of the recent wave of eccentric Japanese comedies, including “Instant Swamp” and “Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers”. Headlined by the extremely effective pairing of actors Joe Odagiri (“I Wish”, “Shinobi”) and Tomokazu Miura (“The Taste of Tea”), the film is a whimsical stroll through the city, with the two getting caught up in the kind of odd events and unexpected adventures that Miki has become so well known for. The film finally lands on region 2 DVD via Third Window on February 27th.
Joe Odagiri plays slacker and eternal student type Takemura, the film opening with him having a sock stuffed in his mouth by debt collector Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura) in an effort to try to get him to finally pay off his mountain of bills. Left without much hope of being able to come up with the money, Takemura is stunned when Fukuhara turns up again with a strange proposal, offering him a million yen to walk with him across the city to the central Kasumigaseki district. He accepts the offer and the two of them set off on their journey, Fukuhara soon revealing that he has just killed his wife and that their final destination is a specific police station where he wants to hand himself in.
As with any of Satoshi Miki’s comedies, this synopsis really only suggests the basic premise, the film cramming in a huge amount of wilfully leftfield anecdotal detail. Basically a road trip on foot, the film is essentially just the two men wandering around various districts and areas in Tokyo, conversing, reminiscing, and hesitantly engaging in low key male bonding. The film steers clear of anything too soul searching, with no redemptive character arcs, life lessons or sudden revelations, Miki poking fun at such coincidences early on setting up and then lightly mocking expectations. The film similarly quite deliberately avoids any real tension as to Fukuhara’s situation and the question of his possible impending arrest, and unsurprisingly doesn’t build to any kind of cathartic conclusion, with even the subplot of his wife’s semi-concerned work colleagues going to their house to look for her getting distracted by hair-sniffing and noodles.
Whilst the film’s meandering, unhurried pace and general lack of plot may sound off-putting, Miki holds the interest throughout thanks to his wonderfully observational style, and much like its central characters, the film engages through its joy in simply uncovering the strangeness on the fringes of everyday life. Although amusingly whimsical and featuring a few flashes of surrealism here and there, the film is a little more grounded than others of the genre, with most of Takemura and Fukuhara’s encounters providing light hearted snapshots of modern Japanese culture, including cosplay, over the top teenagers and hired marriage relatives. The film is frequently very funny, though never as a result of out and out gags or anything too obvious, Miki showing his usual charmingly laid back sense of humour.
For all its offbeat drifting, the film is surprisingly touching, with both Joe Odagiri and Tomokazu Miura on effortlessly likeable and convincing form. The dynamic between the two and the way it subtly changes as they grow closer is arguably the film’s strongest asset, with Miki playing upon Takemura’s lack of a father and Fukuhara’s lack of a son in touching fashion. The film also makes great use of the fake family conceit, with the two men for no real reason ending up staying with club hostess Kyoko Koizumi (“Tokyo Sonata”) as a pretend mother/wife and her energetic, bizarre food eating niece Yuriko Yoshitaka (recently in the live action “Gantz” adaptations), again with unexpectedly affecting results.
“Adrift in Tokyo” certainly has heart, and thanks to Satoshi Miki’s trademark calmness this complements the film’s more outlandish aspects perfectly, making for one of the most enjoyable and evocative depictions of Tokyo in recent Japanese cinema. Equally accessible and entertaining for Miki fans and newcomers, the film really is an absolute delight, and underlines again exactly why he has become a director with such a cult following.
Satoshi Miki (director) / Yoshinaga Fujita (novel), Satoshi Miki (screenplay)
CAST: Jô Odagiri … Fumiya Takemura
Tomokazu Miura … Aiichiro Fukuhara
Kyôko Koizumi … Makiko
Yuriko Yoshitaka … Fufumi
Kumiko Asô … Mikaduki Shizuka